Yosemite’s El Capitan never fails to make jaws drop open. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Some travel traditions wind up being big and grand, such as when a couple goes on an African safari for a honeymoon and then decides to celebrate each wedding anniversary with the same kind of expedition. Some travel traditions fall on the smaller side, such as driving across town to grandma and grandpa’s house every Thanksgiving.

No matter the scale, though, travel traditions—like most other customs—are typically handed down from one generation to another. They usually begin either with your parents or grandparents; or they begin with you, and you hand them down to your children. What’s more uncommon is when traditions originate from the bottom and move up the generational ladder: when your children start them for you.

Keeping the travel traditions going . . .

Last year, my husband, our son and I traveled to Yosemite National Park in California. It was the first time any of us had been in the High Sierra. We did the things most first-timers do in Yosemite: we dropped our jaws in awe at the sight of El Capitan, got soaked to the skin under Bridalveil Fall and walked miles of trails in the shadow of Half Dome. We had such a great time that my son suggested we make Yosemite our “special place” and that we return every year.

Hiking Mariposa Grove in a snowstorm is one of those great surprises you find around the corner of a tradition. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

And just like that—from the bottom, up—a family tradition was born. Or so we thought.

This year, my son and I made a return pilgrimage to Yosemite (my husband couldn’t make the trip, as he injured his foot and was hospitalized the day before our departure). And although what was now our family tradition was still in its infancy at a mere two years, we nostalgically did some of the same things we did the first time around: we marveled at El Capitan, hiked to the many waterfalls and gazed at Half Dome from every angle in the valley. We also added in some new adventures: We took the scary-as-heck, narrow, mountainside-road drive to Hetch Hetchy and walked through the far reaches of Mariposa Grove in a snowstorm. We made our customary vow to visit again next year.

However, when I returned home, I found that I couldn’t find us a room in Yosemite Valley for next year. They were all booked. Our newfound family tradition was in danger of extinction before it really had a chance to live and set down roots. Oh, how I rued Ken Burn and his popular PBS series!

I think Yellowstone will be easily incorporated into our “Yosemite tradition.” ©John T. Andrews

What was of even more concern than breaking with a travel tradition was the thought of losing a new connection with my adult child. Such connections are precious when you live on opposite sides of the country. So I quickly did what any mother would do in such a situation: I pulled a quick switch. I booked us into Yellowstone National Park instead.

. . . Even when there’s a curve in the road

One thing I’ve learned from these past two years is that traditions—especially travel traditions—needn’t be budge-proof and stodgy. If your travel tradition is to collect sand from every beach you visit, for example, why not go to the mountains and pick up a rock for a change? If your convention is to light a candle in every village you pass through, why not journey someplace new where you can watch nature fire up the night sky?

In my family’s case, I think we will now have to redefine our “tradition” to mean we’ll travel to any one of our national parks every year—just as long as I can keep one step ahead of Ken Burns.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,